Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cuscuta campestris
(field dodder)



Cuscuta campestris (field dodder)


  • Last modified
  • 14 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cuscuta campestris
  • Preferred Common Name
  • field dodder
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The parasitic weed C. campestris is native to North America but has been introduced around the world and become a weed in many countries. It is by far the most important of the dodders, perhaps because of its...

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Field dodder.
TitleC. campestris flowering on niger
CaptionField dodder.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Field dodder.
C. campestris flowering on nigerField dodder.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Crop of niger seriously damaged by C. campestris in Ethiopia.
TitleDamage symptoms on niger
CaptionCrop of niger seriously damaged by C. campestris in Ethiopia.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Crop of niger seriously damaged by C. campestris in Ethiopia.
Damage symptoms on nigerCrop of niger seriously damaged by C. campestris in Ethiopia.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
TitleC. campestris fruiting on Artemisia sp.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
C. campestris fruiting on Artemisia sp.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cuscuta campestris Yuncker (1932)

Preferred Common Name

  • field dodder

Other Scientific Names

  • Cuscuta arvensis Engelm. (1856) in part (not Beyrich)
  • Cuscuta basarabica Buia
  • Cuscuta gymnocarpa subsp. deflexa Buia
  • Cuscuta pentagona subsp. calycina Yuncker
  • Cuscuta pentagona var. pentagona Engelm
  • Grammica campestris (Yuncker) Hadac

International Common Names

  • English: common dodder; dodder
  • French: cuscute des champs

Local Common Names

  • Australia: golden dodder
  • Brazil: cipó de chumbo; cipó dourado; cuscuta
  • Germany: Nordamerikanische Seide
  • India: swarnalata
  • Italy: cuscuta grossa
  • Madagascar: tsihitafototra
  • Netherlands: veldwarkruid
  • Saudi Arabia: dubbay; hamool
  • South Africa: gewone dodder (Afrikaans)
  • USA: large-seeded alfalfa dodder; prairie dodder

EPPO code

  • CVCCA (Cuscuta campestris)

Summary of Invasiveness

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The parasitic weed C. campestris is native to North America but has been introduced around the world and become a weed in many countries. It is by far the most important of the dodders, perhaps because of its wide host range. This ensures that there is a wide range of crop seeds that may be contaminated, and in which it may be introduced to new areas over both short and long distances. Once introduced it is almost certain that there will be suitable host plants on which it can thrive and be damaging, whether they are crops or wild species. Vegetative spread can be very rapid – up to 5 m in 2 months. It also has a wide tolerance of climatic conditions from warm temperate to sub-tropical and tropical.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Solanales
  •                         Family: Cuscutaceae
  •                             Genus: Cuscuta
  •                                 Species: Cuscuta campestris

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The genus Cuscuta has widely been placed in its own family Cuscutaceae, but most authorities (e.g. Flora Europaea, Missouri Botanic Gardens) now merge Cuscutaceae into Convolvulaceae. Pérez-Amador et al. (1996) considered this was supported by evidence of taxonomic markers, typical of Convolvulaceae, also occurring in Cuscuta spp., and Stefanovic and Olmstead (2004) present further evidence from phylogenetic studies.

The name Cuscutacampestris was created by Yuncker in 1932, for the plant commonly known as Cuscutaarvensis. The latter name was regarded as unsatisfactory as it had originally been applied, by Beyrich, to a specimen now more strictly known as Cuscutapentagona (common name in USA – lespedeza dodder). According to Yuncker (1932), C.campestris differs from C.pentagona in having no prominent angles at the sinuses of the calyx, and in larger flowers, broader corolla lobes and shorter pedicels (2-3 mm versus 1.5 mm in C.pentagona). Some authorities in the USA (e.g. Beliz, 1986) treat the two as one species and apply the earlier name of C. pentagona Engelm. For the purposes of this datasheet, C.campestris is treated as a distinct species, but it is assumed for purposes of geographical distribution that records of ‘C. pentagona’ and ‘C.arvensis’ are equivalent to C.campestris.



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Cuscuta species have a very distinct appearance, consisting mainly of leafless, glabrous, yellow or orange twining stems and tendrils, bearing inconspicuous scales in the place of leaves. In C. campestris, the yellow to pale orange true stems, about 0.3 mm in diameter, generally do not twine and attach to the host, but produce tendrils of similar appearance, arising opposite the scale leaves, which do form coils and haustoria (Dawson, 1984). The seedling has only a rudimentary root for anchorage, while the shoot circumnutates, i.e. swings round anti-clockwise about once per hour, until it makes contact with any stem or leaf, round which it will coil before growing on to make further contacts. The root and shoot below this initial attachment soon die, leaving no direct contact with the soil. Haustoria form on the inside of the coils and penetrate to the vascular bundles of susceptible hosts. Flowers, each about 2 mm across, occur in compact clusters 1-2 cm across. There is a calyx of 5 fused sepals with obtuse or somewhat acute lobes, and 5 corolla lobes, triangular, acute, often turned up at the end, equalling the length of the tube. Stamens alternate with the corolla lobes, each with a fringed scale below. The ovary is almost spherical with a pair of styles with globose tips. The capsule reaches 2-3 mm across when mature, with a depression between the two styles. The capsule does not dehisce and seeds remain on the plant long after maturity. Seeds are irregular in shape, rough-surfaced, about 1 mm across.


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C.campestris is a mainland North American species which has been distributed very widely around the world, mainly by means of contaminated crop seed and fodder, especially of lucerne. It is also apparently native to some Caribbean islands but the exact limits of its native range remain unclear (USDA-ARS, 2008), and it may well have been introduced there. As an introduced species, it is most common in temperate and sub-tropical regions and least abundant in the tropics of Central America, Africa, South-East Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1979
BahrainPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
BangladeshPresentIntroducedKhan and Halim, 1990
BhutanPresentIntroducedParker, 1992
-FujianPresentIntroducedFang et al., 1995
-GuangdongPresentIntroducedYu et al., 2008
-XinjiangPresentIntroducedFang et al., 1995
IndiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1979
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentIntroducedBaráth, 2009
-Jammu and KashmirPresentIntroducedBhellum and Mangotra, 1996
-Madhya PradeshPresentIntroducedMishra et al., 2005
-Tamil NaduPresentIntroducedSrinivasan, 1976
-West BengalPresentIntroducedSrinivasan, 1976
IndonesiaPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
-SumatraPresentIntroducedChiu and Shen, 2004
IranPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
IraqUnconfirmed recordIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
IsraelPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
JapanPresentIntroducedMorita, 1997
JordanWidespreadIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
KazakhstanPresentIntroducedZharasov ShU, 2009
Korea, Republic ofPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
MalaysiaPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
OmanPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
PakistanPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979; Irum et al., 2011
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
QatarPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Parker and Wilson, 1986; Alfarhan, 1994
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced Invasive Jayasinghe et al., 2004
SyriaPresentIntroducedBellar and Kebabeh, 1983; Parker and Wilson, 1986
TaiwanPresentIntroducedLiao et al., 2000; Liao et al., 2005
TurkeyPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
United Arab EmiratesPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
YemenPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986


AlgeriaPresentIntroducedZerman and Saghir, 1995
BotswanaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1979
CameroonPresentIntroducedHeine, 1963
EgyptPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
EthiopiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Parker and Riches, 1993
KenyaPresentIntroducedVerdcourt, 1963
LibyaPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
MoroccoPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
MozambiquePresentIntroducedGoncalves, 1987
NigeriaPresentIntroducedGworgwor et al., 2001
South AfricaWidespreadIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedParker and Riches, 1993
SudanPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
TanzaniaPresentIntroducedVerdcourt, 1963
UgandaPresentIntroducedVerdcourt, 1963; Holm et al., 1979
ZambiaPresentIntroducedGoncalves, 1987
ZimbabwePresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979

North America

CanadaWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1979
-AlbertaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-British ColumbiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-ManitobaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-New BrunswickPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-Newfoundland and LabradorPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-Nova ScotiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-OntarioPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-Prince Edward IslandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-QuebecPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
-SaskatchewanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
MexicoPresentNativeHolm et al., 1979; USDA-ARS, 2008
USAWidespreadNativeHolm et al., 1979
-AlabamaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ArizonaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ArkansasPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-CaliforniaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ColoradoPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ConnecticutPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-DelawarePresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-FloridaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-GeorgiaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-HawaiiPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IdahoPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IllinoisPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IndianaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-IowaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-KansasPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-KentuckyPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-LouisianaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MarylandPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MassachusettsPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MichiganPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MinnesotaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MississippiPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MissouriPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MontanaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-NebraskaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-NevadaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New JerseyPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New MexicoPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New YorkPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-North CarolinaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-North DakotaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-OhioPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-OklahomaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-OregonPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-PennsylvaniaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-Rhode IslandPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-South CarolinaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-South DakotaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-TennesseePresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-TexasPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-UtahPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-VirginiaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-WashingtonPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-West VirginiaPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-WisconsinPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-WyomingPresentNativeLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
CubaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
GuadeloupePresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
JamaicaPresentNativeHolm et al., 1979; USDA-ARS, 2008
MartiniquePresentNativeYuncker, 1932; USDA-ARS, 2008
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedYuncker, 1932

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroducedYuncker, 1932
ChilePresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979


AlbaniaPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
AustriaPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
BelgiumPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
BulgariaPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
CyprusPresentIntroducedParker and Wilson, 1986
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
DenmarkPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1979
FrancePresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
GermanyPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
GreecePresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972; EPPO, 2014
HungaryPresentIntroduced Invasive Valentine and, 1972; Holm et al., 1979
ItalyPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
NetherlandsPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
PortugalPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
RomaniaPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
Russian FederationPresentIntroduced Invasive Valentine and, 1972
-Central RussiaPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
SerbiaPresentIntroducedVrbnicanin et al., 2008
SlovakiaPresentCagán et al., 2001
SpainPresentIntroduced Invasive Racasens and Conesa, 1990
SwitzerlandPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
UKPresentIntroducedValentine and, 1972
Yugoslavia (former)WidespreadIntroduced Invasive Valentine and, 1972


-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced
-South AustraliaRestricted distributionIntroduced
-VictoriaPresentIntroducedYuncker, 1932
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive Yuncker, 1932; PIER, 2008
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
GuamPresentHock et al., 2008; PIER, 2008
KiribatiPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
SamoaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
Wake IslandPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008

History of Introduction and Spread

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The spread of C. campetris is not well documented, but Valentine (1972) records introduction to Europe about 1900. Yuncker (1932) records specimens collected in Martinique in 1897, Australia in 1909, South Africa in 1918, France in 1920, Italy in 1922, etc. Cooke and Black (1987) record that it was thought to have reached India in 1965, though it is possible it was present long before this, misidentified as C.chinensis. It was first collected in Taiwan in 1964 (Liao et al., 2000).

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction arises mainly from contaminated crop seed. It is extremely difficult to separate dodder seed from certain crop seeds, especially the important host species, lucerne, and niger seed. Many other crop seeds may incidentally be contaminated as a result of occurrence of C. campestris on weeds in the crop. It has almost certainly also occurred in the past as a contaminant of dried forage of lucerne and clovers. Strict quarantine regulations now in place in most countries should ensure that there is little further spread from these sources, but enforcement may be insufficiently effective and vigilance will continue to be needed.


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C.campestris is native to temperate North America but has been spread to many other regions of diverse ecology, including the tropics and sub-tropics, though it is still commonest in temperate conditions. It is mainly associated with disturbed vegetation, especially cropped land, usually being introduced via contaminated seed of lucerne or other crops.

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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The host range of C.campestris is extremely wide. Several hundred crop and weed species have been listed as hosts, though some of these may only be acting as secondary hosts after the parasite is established on a more favoured primary host (e.g. Gaertner, 1950; Kuijt, 1969). Most are dicotyledonous, though the monocot onion can be seriously attacked. The plant is most important as a pest of lucerne and other legumes. Grasses sometimes appear to be acting as hosts but are not normally penetrated. The literature on host range is usefully reviewed by Cooke and Black (1987). Crops commonly parasitized, other than those listed in the table, include asparagus, chickpea, lentil, grape, citrus, melon, Lespedeza and flower crops including chrysanthemum. Not all hosts are consistently attacked, for example tomato is susceptible when young but becomes resistant with age (Gaertner, 1950).  

Growth Stages

Top of page Flowering stage, Fruiting stage, Seedling stage, Vegetative growing stage


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The presence of Cuscuta is always obvious from the twining stems and tendrils. Symptoms of damage are not especially characteristic, but reflect the very powerful sink effect created by the haustoria, resulting in reduced vigour and, in particular, poor seed and fruit development.

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
Fruit / premature drop
Leaves / yellowed or dead
Whole plant / early senescence

Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome number of C.campestris is reported to be 2n=56 from material in the USA, Israel and Iran (Costea and Tardif, 2006).


Reproduction is primarily by seed, although vegetative spread can be important on a local basis. Pollination is apparently autogamous in this species and a single plant can produce up to 16,000 seeds (Costea and Tardif, 2006). Flowering of C.campestris occurs in mid-summer in North America, but there is no evidence that this is a response to long days. There is some evidence that it is influenced by the host, e.g. by transfer of a flowering inhibitor from host to parasite under daylength conditions which are non-inductive for the host (Fratianne, 1965), but flowering can occur on non-flowering hosts, and it is thought most often to depend more on general nutrient status (Dawson et al., 1994; Wolswinkel, 1989). There also appears to be less flowering under very humid, high rainfall conditions. In contrast, flowering of C. reflexa is induced by short days (Wolswinkel, 1989).

Unlike the root parasites Striga and Orobanche, which require a germination stimulant provided by host roots, Cuscuta species have no specialized germination requirement to ensure that there is a host present on which to grow. This is less necessary for species such as C.campestris, which has a very wide host range, but a proportion of the seeds do have a hard coat requiring gradual degradation or scarification, which reduces the danger of all seeds germinating at once in the absence of a host. Germination occurs regardless of light or darkness, at temperatures above 10°C, and optimally at 30°C. The seed reserves can support growth of the shoot to 5-10 cm, supported by a short stubby root only 1-2 cm long. Seeds are believed to persist for up to 10 years in the soil, much longer than this in dry storage (Benvenuti et al., 2005), but seedlings fail to emerge from deeper than 5 cm burial.

Vegetative spread can occur through the extensive growth of stems which can reach up to 5 m in just 2 months, but regeneration can also occur from stem fragments which are detached and distributed intentionally or otherwise by man, animals or machinery.

Physiology and Phenology

Once germinated, light, and a relatively high temperature of 25°C, are needed for the characteristic circumnutation (anti-clockwise), coiling and haustorium formation (see reviews by Parker and Riches, 1993; Dawson et al., 1994; Holm et al., 1997; Costea and Tardif, 2006). Benvenuti et al. (2005) have demonstrated tropism towards sugar beet plants due to their dark green colour, being a function of the lower red/far red ratio of transmitted light. Insertion of a transparent glass sheet between host leaves and parasite seedlings did not modify this response. This phototropism permits Cuscuta to identify host plants with high chlorophyll content. A different type of tropism has also been demonstrated by Runyon et al. (2006), being a chemotropism mediated by a volatile signal from the host plants tomato and wheat. This was prevented by an interposed glass plate: the relative importance of these two tropisms is not known.

Coiling is reduced under deep shade. In the absence of a live plant host, the seedling may coil around any dead stem or inanimate object, but development of haustoria depends on a supply of cytokinin which derives at least partly from the host. Once haustoria have penetrated, searching hyphae ramify into the stem or leaf tissue, both through and between host cells, making connections in due course with the host phloem via plasmodesmata (Dorr, 1987).

Although most often behaving as an annual plant, C.campestris can persist as a perennial on a perennial host. Even when all visible stems have been killed by winter frost, it is capable of regeneration from the embedded haustoria.

Effects on Hosts

Once contact is established with the host phloem, Cuscuta becomes a powerful sink for metabolites, causing a severe drain on host resources and often completely preventing normal fruit development, as shown by Wolswinkel (1979) in faba bean. Cuscuta species do contain functional chlorophyll, but numbers of chloroplasts are very low and photosynthesis is only 1-2% of that in a normal green plant, i.e. C.campestris is almost totally dependent on the host for growth and survival.

The very destructive effects of C. campestris on its host are well illustrated in the work of Shen et al. (2005; 2007) and Lian et al. (2006), with the weed on another invasive species, Mikania micrantha in China. A range of physiological effects are described which resulted in a complete prevention of flowering, and almost complete death of the host plant after 70 days.


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As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
55 45

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 10 30
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 35
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall5001500mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral
  • very alkaline

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Alternaria alternata Pathogen
Alternaria cuscutidae Pathogen Stems
Colletotrichum destructivum Pathogen Stems
Geotrichum candidum (citrus race) Pathogen
Melanagromyza cuscutae Herbivore Stems
Smicronyx jungermanniae Parasite Fruits/pods/Stems
Smicronyx rufivittatus Parasite Fruits/pods/Stems
Smicronyx sereipilosus Parasite Fruits/pods/Stems
Smicronyx tartaricus Parasite Fruits/pods/Stems

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Natural enemies of Cuscuta spp. were reviewed by CAB International (1987). Those recorded on C. campestris include a number of gall-forming Smicronyx species which have been of interest as possible biocontrol agents. There have also been attempts to exploit some of the fungi occurring on Cuscuta spp.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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C.campestris commonly occurs as a contaminant of crop seed, especially lucerne, red clover and niger seed (Guizoltia abyssinica) which have similarly sized seeds. As seeds do not shatter from the capsules, they are harvested with the crop and are then difficult to separate.

Contamination of crop seed with any Cuscuta species can result in preclusion from importation into countries with quarantine regulations. Holm et al. (1997) indicate that 25 countries have declared Cuscuta spp. as noxious, and that the movement of Cuscuta-infested material is prohibited in every single state of the USA.


Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Aid Yes
Crop production Yes Yes
Cut flower trade Yes Yes
Flooding and other natural disasters Yes
Forage Yes Yes
Horticulture Yes Yes
Nursery trade Yes Yes
Research Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Aircraft Yes
Bulk freight or cargo Yes
Plants or parts of plants Yes Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Growing medium accompanying plants
True seeds (inc. grain)

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Economic Impact

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Holm et al. (1979) listed C.campestris as a ‘principal’ or ‘serious’ weed in only six countries. It is rarely a major weed over large areas, perhaps because of the lack of attack on Gramineae [Poaceae], and the cleaning effect of cereal crops in rotation. It is most troublesome where it is sown as a seed contaminant (e.g. lucerne, clovers, niger seed); where broad-leaved crops are grown as perennials or biennials (e.g. lucerne, clovers, citrus, sugarbeet); and in horticultural situations where most crops in the rotation are broad-leaved (e.g. vegetables, ornamentals).

Owing to its powerful metabolic sink effect, the damage to infected hosts can be severe, to the extent of total crop loss. Crops most seriously affected include: lucerne in North America, the former Yugoslavia and many other countries; niger seed in India and Ethiopia; sugarbeet in the former Yugoslavia, Italy and eastern Europe; and chrysanthemum in Australia, the Canary Islands and Ethiopia (Parker and Riches, 1993). There are many other serious local infestations. Although tomato is not always affected, it is seriously attacked by C. campestris in Spain and Israel (Tei et al., 2003).

Crop losses have rarely been measured, but there are estimates of 57% reduction in lucerne forage production over a 2-year period, and reductions of up to 40% in root weight and 3.5 to 4 tons of sugar per hectare in infested sugar beet (see Parker and Riches, 1993). Mishra et al. (2007) compared the susceptibility of different crops in India and measured yield losses of 86% in niger seed, 82% in greengram, 67% in sesamum, 48% in soyabean, 27% in black gram, 25% in pigeon pea and 18% in groundnut, but none in rice or cowpea. In a similar comparative study, Farah and Al-Abdulsalam (2004) ranked 6 legumes as highly susceptible suffering greater than 50% loss – hyacinth bean, lentil, chickpea, faba bean, lucerne and fodder pea; 4 as susceptible (10-50% loss) – fenugreek, Egyptian clover, lupin and garden pea, while kidney bean and vetch were unaffected. Further economic loss occurs when crop produce, intended for export, is rejected or has to be cleaned expensively.

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Host damage
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Parasitism (incl. parasitoid)
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult/costly to control


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There have been a number of projects seeking to make use of C. campestris to control other weedy species, especially Mikania micrantha. Parker and Riches (1993) refer to such an approach in tea in India, while Shen et al. (2007) and Lian et al. (2006) have been exploring similar ideas in China. The latter authors showed that reduction of M. micrantha resulted in a highly significant increase in species richness and the biomass of companion vegetation. The wisdom of the idea ‘to use a weed to control a weed’?), however, has to be doubted, especially if it involves the deliberate introduction of the Cuscuta into an area where it did not already occur.

C. campestris is also frequently used as a research tool, to create a bridge between different plants for transmission of viruses and mycoplasma-like organisms from one host to another (see Dawson et al., 1994).

Uses List

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  • Host of pest


  • Laboratory use

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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At least 10 Cuscuta species can occur as parasites on crops. Some are readily distinguished from C.campestris by having only a single style (C.reflexa, C. monogyna, C. lupuliformis,C.japonica), others by having linear stigmas, without knobs (C.epithymum, C. pedicellata, C.palaestina, C. planiflora, C. epilinum), but three others also have paired stigmas with knobs on. Of these, C.gronovii rarely occurs outside the USA and has a very loose, pedicelled head of flowers. Cuscutachinensis and C. australis are superficially very similar and are readily confused with C.campestris. For a key and illustrations see Parker and Riches (1993); the following notes are from the same source.

Cuscutachinensis, occurring mainly in South-East Asia, especially in China and Japan, is distinguished by fleshy tips to the corolla lobes and the capsule almost obscured by the persistent corolla. In China it is a problem on soyabean. Other reports from, e.g. Egypt and India, may be a result of confusion with C.campestris. In Sri Lanka, most of the reports of this species have now been proved to be mis-identifications of C. campestris (Jayasinghe et al., 2004).

Cuscuta australis, more widespread in Asia and Europe, has rounded corolla lobes and bifid scales (simple in C.campestris), but it attacks only herbaceous hosts, including soyabean in China, and Polygonum spp.

Among the species with separate, simple styles, C. epilinum, with 5-part pale flowers in large heads 10-15 mm across, and membraneous calyx lobes, differs from other species in having a very narrow host range, virtually restricted to flax (Linum usitatissimum). It occurs in Europe, the Middle East, North America and South Africa.

Cuscutaepythimum (including C.trifolii) is close to C. epilinum but has reddish stems and flowers, the latter scented, in smaller heads up to 10 mm diameter. It is a species of Europe and western Asia, occasionally in North and South America, Japan, Australia and South Africa, on woody and herbaceous hosts, mostly weeds but including clovers and other forage legumes, and carrots (see also Holm et al., 1997).

Cuscutaplaniflora (including C.approximata and known as small-seed dodder in the USA) also has 5-part flowers, but with calyx lobes membraneous. Cuscuta pedicellata and C.palaestina have mainly 4-part flowers. All three are thin-vined species, originally mainly Mediterranean in distribution, now occurring rather more widely and occasionally damaging to forage legumes.

Ma et al. (2007) provide a key to the identification of Cuscuta spp. in China based on seed characteristics only, including C. chinensis, C. campestris and C. australis. Hamed (2005) similarly provides a key for the Egyptian species of Cuscuta based on seed, but also pollen, characters.

Prevention and Control

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Use of clean crop seed is vital, and seed should be inspected and cleaned if necessary, or obtained from a source known to be reliable. Separation of Cuscuta seeds from lucerne is quite successfully achieved by equipment comprising felt- or velvet-covered rollers to which the rough seeds of Cuscuta stick while the smoother crop seeds pass over (see Dawson et al., 1994). Removal of highly favoured hosts such as Convolvulus arvensis from around field edges is also recommended.

According to Holm et al. (1997), legislation in 25 countries lists Cuscuta spp. as ‘declared noxious weeds’ with seeds and plant material denied entrance. There must by now be many more. In the USA, it is the only weed seed with its movement prohibited in every state.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Rotation with non-susceptible crops can be helpful. Cereals are virtually immune from attack, and some broad-leaved crops may also be sufficiently resistant, including soyabean, kidney bean, squash, cucumber and cotton (see Parker and Riches, 1993). Guar bean (Cyamopsis psoraloides) is not immune, but it causes gross deformity and reduces the vigour of the parasite to the extent that it helps to protect a susceptible crop, mung bean (Vigna radiata), when they are grown in mixture (Rao and Reddy, 1987).

There are no known resistant varieties of susceptible crop species, but Mishra et al. (2006) showed variations in response to different varieties of linseed, with damage varying from 7% to 44% in terms of reduced seed yield. Similarly, Goldwasser et al. (2001) showed considerable variation in the susceptibility of tomato varieties to ‘C. pentagona’ in California, USA, with less susceptible varieties were less readily penetrated by the parasite.

Deep shade suppresses the coiling and attachment of Cuscuta; hence encouraging a dense crop canopy is a valuable component of any integrated control programme.

Physical/Mechanical Control

The young seedlings with rudimentary roots are readily destroyed by shallow tillage before or after crop establishment. Hand-pulling is suitable only for scattered infestations as the infested crop plants have to be removed with the parasite. Scattered infestations can also be controlled by heat, using a hand-held flame gun. More extensive infestations in lucerne are also sometimes treated with overall flaming, as the crop is able to recover. Close mowing is an alternative means of control in lucerne and clovers. Similarly, grazing by sheep can result in significant suppression (Nicol et al., 2007).

Biological Control

Attempts at biological control of Cuscuta spp. have mainly involved the agromyzid fly Melanagromyzacuscutae and the gall-forming weevils Smicronyx spp. Introduction of M.cuscutae, Smicronyx rufivittatus and Smicronyx roridus from Asia into Barbados for control of Cuscutaamericana and C.indecora apparently failed (Julien, 1987), but Smicronyx jungermanniae and Smicronyx tartaricus have given encouraging results in eastern Europe when introduced from one region to another for control of C.campestris (see Julien, 1987; Parker and Riches, 1993).

Among pathogens, Alternaria cuscutacidae is reported to have been used successfully on C.campestris in the former USSR, and a form of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides has been used for many years in China as a mycoherbicide for control of C. chinensis and C.australis on soyabean (see Julien, 1992; Parker and Riches, 1993).

Chemical Control

A range of soil-acting herbicides are effective in preventing the germination and establishment of C.campestris (see Parker and Riches, 1993; Dawson et al., 1994). Chlorpropham was one of the first to be used in lucerne and other crops, but short soil persistence meant that it rarely provided suppression for long enough. It has been superseded by other compounds such as propyzamide, chlorthal-dimethyl, trifluralin, pendimethalin, prodiamine, pebulate and ethofumesate, for use variously in lucerne, clovers, lespedeza, sugarbeet, onion, chickpea, carrot, tomato, vines, niger seed, etc., but selectivity is rarely perfect and integration with cultural methods is usually needed. Pendimethalin continues to be the one of the most commonly used herbicides (e.g. Mishra et al., 2005), also ethofumesate in sugar beet.

Herbicides for control of established parasites include diquat and paraquat, used for non-selective spot spraying of isolated patches. For more selective control of established C.campestris, glyphosate has shown promise in established lucerne, though selectivity is narrow and repeat treatments may be needed (see Dawson et al., 1994); also in linseed (Mishra et al., 2005). There are preliminary reports of selective control of C.campestris in lucerne by imazaquin (Sarpe et al., 1992), and by imazethapyr and glufosinate (Heap, 1992). Crocker (1987) suggested glyphosate, clopyralid, diquat and metsulfuron for use in amenity areas in Australia. The bleaching herbicides, sulcotrione and mesotrione reduce biomass accumulation, while flurochloridone has only a temporary effect (Weinberg et al., 2003).

C. campestris, in e.g. Israel, has developed resistance to certain herbicides including ALS inhibitors (chlorsulfuron, and sulfometuron-methyl) and AABI herbicides (e.g. glyphosate) (Costea and Tardif, 2006).

IPM Programmes

Integrated methods involve the all-important use of clean seed; good field hygiene to eradicate scattered infestations before they get out of control; good control of other weeds which might act as reservoirs of infestation; timing of tillage and planting to maximize destruction of parasite seedlings before sowing; and optimum planting arrangement and growing conditions for a good crop canopy to suppress development of the weed.


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10/03/2008 Updated by:

Chris Parker, Consultant, UK

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